Aerobic exercise is any cardiovascular conditioning or “cardio.” It can include activities like brisk walking, swimming, running, or cycling.

By definition, aerobic exercise means “with oxygen.” Your breathing and heart rate will increase during aerobic activities. Aerobic exercise helps keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system healthy.

Aerobic exercise differs from anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercises, such as weightlifting or sprinting, involve quick bursts of energy. They’re performed at maximum effort for a short time. This is unlike aerobic exercises. You perform aerobic exercises for a sustained period.

Read on to learn more about aerobic exercises you can try at home and the gym. And remember, always consult with a healthcare professional before beginning a new aerobic exercise routine.

Cardiovascular exercises can be done at home. There are many you can do with little to no equipment, too. Always warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before starting any exercise.

1. Jump rope

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers), jump rope

Benefits: Jumping rope helps improve body awareness, hand-foot coordination, and agility.

Safety: Your jump rope should be adjusted for your height. Stand with both feet on the middle of the rope and extend the handles to your armpits. That’s the height you’re going for. If it’s too long, cut or tie it to avoid tripping on the rope.

Duration and frequency: 15 to 25 minutes, 3 to 5 times per week

person wearing a white t shirt, black leggings, and black shoes jumping with a yellow rope against a blue backgroundShare on Pinterest
Gif by Dima Bazak

Following a jump rope circuit is a great indoor or outdoor activity, though you’ll want to ensure you have plenty of space. Your circuit routine should take 15 to 25 minutes to complete.

If you’re a beginner:

  1. Start by jogging forward as you swing the jump rope over your head and under your feet. Do this move for 15 seconds.
  2. Next, reverse your direction and jog backward as you swing the jump rope. Do this move for 15 seconds.
  3. Finish your set by doing a hopscotch jump for 15 seconds. To do this, jump rope in place, and as you jump, alternate between jumping your feet out to the sides and then back to the center, similar to how you’d move them while jumping jacks. Do this move for 15 seconds.
  4. Rest for 15 seconds between sets.
  5. Repeat 18 times.

If you’re an intermediate exerciser, you can perform the moves for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds between sets. The advanced circuit should be performed for 60 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of rest.

2. Aerobic strength circuit

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers), sturdy chair or couch for dips

Benefits: This exercise increases heart and cardiovascular health, builds strength, and tones major muscle groups.

Safety: Focus on proper form with each exercise to avoid injury. Keep your heart rate at a moderate level throughout. You should be able to carry on a brief conversation during this exercise.

Duration and frequency: 15 to 25 minutes, 3 to 5 times per week

This aerobic circuit is designed to get your heart rate up. Perform the following strength exercises for 1 minute:

Then jog or march in place for 1 minute for your active rest. This is one circuit.

Repeat the circuit 2 to 3 times. You can rest for up to 5 minutes between circuits. Cool down afterward with some light stretching.

3. Running or jogging

Equipment: running shoes

Benefits: Running is one of the most effective forms of aerobic exercise. It can improve heart health, burn fat and calories, and lift your mood, to name a few.

Safety concerns: Choose well-lit, populated running routes. Let someone know where you’ll be.

Duration and frequency: 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week

If you’re a beginner, run for 20 to 30 minutes twice a week. Your pace should be conversational during the run. You can alternate between 5 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking to start. To stay injury-free, always stretch after your run.

4. Walking

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers)

Benefits: Walking daily can reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression.

Safety: Walk in well-lit and populated areas. Choose shoes that offer good ankle support to reduce your risk for injury.

Duration and frequency: 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes 5 days a week

If walking is your main form of exercise, aim to get 150 minutes per week. This can be broken down into 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week. Or, walk briskly for 10 minutes at a time, 3 times a day.

You can also use a fitness tracker to keep tabs on how many steps you take each day.

If you want to walk 10,000 steps daily, start with your base (the current amount you walk) and slowly up your daily step count.

You can increase your daily steps by 500 to 1,000 every 1 to 2 weeks until you reach your goal.

Your local gym is a great place to get some aerobic exercise. They probably have equipment like treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines. There may be a pool for you to swim laps in, too.

If you aren’t sure how to use a specific exercise equipment, always ask a professional or trainer for assistance.

5. Swimming

Equipment: pool, swimsuit, goggles (optional)

Benefits: Swimming is a low impact exercise, so it’s good for people prone to or recovering from an injury or living with limited mobility. It can help you tone your muscles and build strength and endurance.

Safety: Avoid swimming alone and, if possible, choose a pool with a lifeguard on duty. If you’re new to swimming, begin by enrolling in swim lessons.

Duration and frequency: 10 to 30 minutes, 2 to 5 times weekly. Add 5 minutes to your swim time each week to increase your duration.

If your gym has a pool, try swimming as aerobic exercise. It’s a low impact workout, so it’s a good choice if you’re prone to injury. You’re also increasing your heart rate, toning your muscles, and building strength and endurance — all without adding additional strain to your body.

You can start by swimming laps using one stroke, such as freestyle. As you swim more, add additional strokes. For example, you could do 1 to 4 laps of freestyle followed by 1 to 4 laps of breaststroke or backstroke.

If you get tired, rest on the side of the pool between laps. Always follow the safety instructions and guidelines of the pool where you swim.

6. Stationary bike

Equipment: stationary bike

Benefits: This low impact exercise can help develop leg strength and cardiovascular endurance.

Safety: Ask a trainer at the gym for help adjusting the bike so that the seat is the correct height. This will help reduce your risk of injury or falling off the bike.

If biking at home, a general rule is to adjust the bike seat height to maintain a 5- to 10-degree bend (slight bend) in your knee before reaching full extension. Doing so reduces compression on your knee joint. Avoid fully extending your knee while peddling on a stationary bike.

Duration and frequency: 35 to 45 minutes, 3 times per week

Riding a stationary bike is another option for low impact cardio. Stationary bikes are a good cardiovascular workout, help you develop leg strength, and are easy to use. Many gyms and workout studios offer cycling classes, which use stationary bikes. But you can still benefit from a stationary bike workout without taking a class.

After stretching and warming up by cycling at an easy rhythm for 5 to 10 minutes, increase your pace to 75 to 80 rotations per minute (RPM) and aim for 20 to 30 minutes of steady cycling. Cool down for 5 minutes. Stretch to finish.

Keep enough resistance on the bike to feel like you’re pushing the pedals instead of feeling like the pedals are pushing your feet. Increase the resistance for a more challenging workout.

7. Elliptical

Equipment: elliptical machine

Benefits: Elliptical machines provide a good cardiovascular workout that’s less stressful on the knees, hips, and back compared to the treadmill or running on the road or trails.

Safety: Look forward, not down. Use the handlebars if you feel unsteady or to help you get on and off the machine.

Duration and frequency: 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week

The elliptical machine may initially seem intimidating, but it’s easy to use once you get the hang of it. After warming up at an easy rhythm for 5 to 10 minutes, keep your posture upright while you use your legs in a pedal motion to move the machine.

Look forward the entire time, not down at your feet. Keep your shoulders back and your abdominal muscles engaged. Cool down and exit the machine to stretch.

Increase the resistance on the machine for a more challenging workout.

If you don’t like exercising alone, a class can provide a supportive and encouraging environment. Ask the instructor to show you the proper form if you’re new. They can help you modify the exercises if you’re a beginner, if necessary.

Attend group classes at your local fitness center 2 to 3 times per week to start. You can always go more frequently later on if you enjoy the workout.

8. Cardio-kickboxing

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers)

Benefits: Kickboxing is a high impact exercise that builds strength and endurance. It may also reduce stress and improve your reflexes.

Safety: Drink plenty of water throughout the class. Take a break if you feel dizzy.

Duration and frequency: 60 minutes, 1 to 3 times per week

Cardio kickboxing is a mix of martial arts, boxing, and aerobics. Your class may start with a warmup of jogging, jumping jacks, or strengthening exercises, such as pushups. Then, expect a series of punches, kicks, and hand strikes for the main workout.

There may be core or strengthening exercises at the end. Always finish your workout with a cool down and stretch.

9. Zumba

Equipment: gym shoes (sneakers)

Benefits: Zumba benefits heart health, improves coordination, tones your entire body, and may help relieve stress.

Safety: Drink lots of water during the class. Take a break if you feel tired or dizzy. You may want to wear shoes that provide good ankle support if prone to ankle injuries.

Duration and frequency: 60 minutes, 1 to 3 times per week

If you like to dance, Zumba is a fun choice for an aerobic workout. After warming up, your instructor will instruct the class through easy-to-follow dance moves set to upbeat music. You’ll finish with a cool down and stretch.

10. Indoor cycling class

Equipment: stationary bike, cycling shoes (optional), padded bicycle shorts or pants (optional)

Benefits: Indoor cycling classes build strength and improve muscle tone and cardiovascular endurance.

Safety: If you’re new or need a refresher, ask the instructor to help set up the stationary bike. Lower your resistance if you get tired, or take a break if you feel lightheaded.

Duration and frequency: 45 to 60 minutes, 1 to 3 times per week

Unlike a leisurely bike ride, a cycle class will get your heart rate up. It may include resistance and climb (incline) portions for maximum training benefits. This will help you build strength and tone your muscles.

Some classes require cycle shoes that you “clip” into the bike. You can usually rent these at your facility.

Most classes are 45 to 60 minutes long and include a warm-up, cool-down, and stretch. Bring water with you to the class. If you’re new, you can reduce the resistance on the bike and peddle lightly for a break if you get tired.

Is aerobic exercise safe for everyone?

If you’re new to exercise, consult a primary care physician or other healthcare professional before starting. They can assess your health and recommend a fitness routine that’s safe and effective for you.

Always start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down and stretch. Focus on form, and stop if it hurts.

What are the benefits of aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise gets your blood pumping and large muscle groups working. It can help:

  • improve heart health
  • lower blood pressure
  • regulate blood sugar
  • improve sleep
  • support weight management
  • boost mood

How much aerobic exercise do you need?

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise five or more days each week. That can be broken up, though. For example, you can take three 10-minute walks throughout the day.

You should also add two or more anaerobic strengthening sessions each week that focus on major muscle groups.

You should begin to see improvements in your cardiovascular endurance by consistently practicing these exercises. Make sure your exercise plan includes both aerobic and anaerobic activities.

Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and try to practice these exercises for at least 150 minutes each week.

Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program. This is especially important if you have any medical conditions or take any medications.